Happening Soon!

A long time ago, my father and I were parked on the side of the road when another car struck us head-on. It was a nun, in a sedan, going around sixty miles per hour. I got hurt. We thought I got better. I developed epilepsy, but we thought that was it. Then the headaches started, and they never stopped.

In recent years, the seizures increased in frequency and intensity. Over the last nine months, things seem to be progressing. New symptoms are popping up. Some things that were simple for me are now harder to do. I have a lot more seizures than I used to, and falling is a problem. I can’t walk far because of neuropathy or drive because of epilepsy. Being in a moving car causes me to have a seizure. There are also some memory and cognitive issues arising.

It is hard on everybody in the house.

I do not know what comes next. My doctors are arranging for somebody to help me with scheduling appointments. There is more in the works. It takes time.

I may even be able to get a ride someplace to get my damaged BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) abutment repaired. The downside is that would mean four hours of seizures to Baltimore. Another four hours on the road to get home. Ugh. That is going require some diligent planning to pull off. Dear Old Dad might have to dose me like Hannibal getting B. A. Baracus onboard an airplane.


patrickcostello.org

The new site is almost ready to launch. Work is going a bit slow due to reasons stated above.

Patrickcostello.org will serve as a free and open archive of my work past, present, and  future. It will also be an online community, and home to one of the craziest projects I have ever dreamed up (more on that in a bit).

I can still play as good as ever, if not better. I can’t organize anything. So, the archives are going to be cataloged and indexed by you, with space to add your thoughts, insights, and even polite disagreements.

Nearly all the video files from our YouTube channel have been moved to the new server. The files are hosted on JetPack, so we won’t have to deal with advertising or social media nonsense.

Access to view the video, audio, and text archives will be free. Membership will be required to take part in the forums and archiving. The $5.00 signup fee is a way to keep the servers and conversations from being flooded with SPAM, marketers, and Internet pests.


The Solid-Body Electric Five-String Banjo

Tim Sway is hard at work on my solid-body five-string electric banjo. I have pictures of the work in process, but I will hold off on details until the instrument gets revealed to Tim’s sponsors and fans.

The design is Tim’s. I approached him with the concept. His take on the idea was nothing like I had imagined. I Immediately loved it. The overall look is rooted in tradition while being futuristic, much like myself.

The build is sponsored. We will be posting the details on the reveal. I couldn’t have afforded something this custom on my own. To say that I am grateful, thankful, and excited is putting it mildly.

Without giving too much away, my banjo is being made from reclaimed or locally harvested sustainable material. The electronics and even the strings are custom for the instrument.

What About The Amp? Effects?

I have a Spark practice amp to get started, and I have been talking to several American manufacturers about an amplifier that will work well with the banjo’s odd range.

I like the Spark, by the way. For a practice amp, it packs many cool bells and whistles. My acoustic-electric banjo sounds wild through the built-in effects.

Pat Quilter of Quilter Amplification is also a banjo player. Nice guy, too! He suggested the Quilter MicroPro HD for a woodier tone. Quilter amplifiers are solid state, and the MicroPro HD has some mind-boggling features for a combo amp. It even has a mic input!

Talking to Milkman Sound, I came away with recommendations for a pedal steel model. He said that banjo players have gotten good tone when they use an equalizer pedal to dial in the tonal range. These are tube amplifiers, and they sound amazing.

Then there is the amp I have been lusting after since 1992: A 1959 Fender Bassman clone.

I know. I know. It seems like an odd choice for banjo, and I usually rail against hyped or legendary gear. Thing is, I have spent quality time with the real thing.

Old Buster here in Crisfield had a 1959 Fender Bassman 4×10 with tone sweet enough even for me to hear. It had massive volume, but he could control it so well that it never seemed obnoxious, even in his little modular home. Buster never used pedals, opting instead to control his Les Paul with technique and the controls on the guitar/amp. For Travis style guitar, it was perfectly responsive to how you attacked the strings. I would jam with Buster through long summer afternoons with my cheek on the side of his amp. Practically bathing in the sounds coming through its sticky tweed cabinet. A banjo could sing like a bird with an amp like that. Marsh makes a nice hand-wired reproduction for a reasonable price.

Another option is to go with a simple and compact amp and a speaker cabinet. Quilter, Milkman Sound, and other companies have some fascinating options smaller than a paperback yet loud as hell.

As for effects, I want to keep it simple. I’ll need the best compression pedal I can find. I will probably also pick up a JHS Colour Box V2 to serve multiple roles.

What About Us?

I plan to begin posting a workshop series on adapting frailing to an electric banjo as soon as I get comfortable with the new instrument. I sincerely hope that you will plug in and explore with me.

You do not need the same gear as I will be using. There are a few electric banjos being sold by different companies. None of them rang my chimes, but you may find something that works for you. For something closer to what I’ll be playing, contact Tim Sway.


Frailing Banjo: In The Words and Music of its Practitioners

Years ago, I organized The Ukulele Project, where an international group of ukulele players joined me in creating a video lesson series for children living on a remote First Nations reserve in Canada.

Thinking back on that got my creative gears turning, and I came up with the idea to create a nonlinear lesson plan and invite as many players as I can to cover each topic. Each specific technique, concept, and even songs will be taught verbally. Nothing will be in writing other than the index.

The idea of possibly fifty entries on how to make a D7 chord may seem overkill to some, but I disagree. We all communicate differently, so having as many perspectives as possible not only ensures that future students will find a voice that speaks to them, but also to provide insight into the wide spectrum of people and ideas that make the entirety of frailing banjo.

Now, this is a huge concept and impossible for even a healthy person to pull off. I will need your help to make it happen.

I will be posting more on the project shortly after patrickcostello.org is online.


So, that’s the skinny on happenings here in Crisfield. Things are not easy, but I have my cats for company and an excellent acupuncturist helping me with headaches, neuropathy pain, and my jacked-up left hand. My pecan tree is overloaded with a bumper crop of nuts, but Meatball is eating any squirrel foolish enough to enter the backyard.

By the way, Meatball got HUGE. At over 20 lbs, he is the largest house cat I have ever encountered, but he is always gentle with me. When my neuropathy is bad, Meatball drapes himself and his three-layer coat over my hurting feet. I love him more than chocolate.

The sap from the nuts in the pecan tree attracts insects, so every day the window is filled with songbirds and raptors. Late in the summer, deer and foxes started visiting in the early morning hours. So much life in such a small yard.

Rocky the kitten is sweet but hyperactive. He wakes me up every morning at three AM by stuffing a paw up my nose – much like an ancient Egyptian embalmer clearing out brain matter from a skull. Everybody is the house has been scratched and some barfed upon. Unsurprisingly, we all love him. Even Daisy and Pooka play with him.

I’ll see you all soon at patrickcostello.org.

God bless,
-Patrick

Rocky

Friday night, I kept hearing a kitten crying every time I went into the backyard. It was dark and raining, and had no luck finding the animal.

The next morning, I found him. Hanging from a high branch in our mulberry tree like the critters in those loathsome motivational posters.

I dragged out a ladder and balanced myself on the highest rung to rescue it.

Now, I have not talked about my issues of late, but seizures, falls, and lack of balance are regular events nowadays. So, I was taking my life into my hands to help this cat.

The little monster darted out of my grasp and ran from branch to branch and then tree to tree like Tarzan until he was way up in the big pecan tree as I stood with my ass hanging in the breeze.

A few hours later, it was screaming and hanging from the same branch on the same mulberry tree. I dragged the ladder out. Again. I balanced my wobbly self on my crappy old ladder. Again. It ran from tree to tree. Again.

When I came out of the garage after putting the ladder back, he was sitting on the back steps waiting to be fed.

Dad named him Rocky, after Bullwinkle’s sidekick.

I guess we have a new cat. God help us all.

My Head is Achin’ and my Banjo is Vibratin’

Tim Sway is in the process of building me a solid-body electric five-string banjo. I reached out to him after getting word of his commitment to sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to traditional instrument design and construction. His five-string electric pipa and ehru are cool, but a bass fiddle out of hollow core doors? Count me in.

Tim and I worked together and came up with a design that honors the roots of the instrument while giving it the same tonal freedom that the guitar experienced when it was electrified. Now I just have to find a good American-made amp and maybe some pedals.

I am not going to go into more technical details. Once he starts cutting wood, Tim will chronicle the build on his site. Once the instrument is in my hands, we will chronicle the process of adapting 40 years of acoustic playing to not only a new kind of banjo, but a new range of music.

Now the search for the right amp begins….


In Other News

We will be shutting down our YouTube channel soon and moving my entire archive of work – the books, audio files, and videos – to a new website where everything will be freely accessible.

The only catch is that I can’t organize this stuff.

The reason I pulled away from the Internet earlier this year, and a few other changes, is because I am starting to show effects from getting hit on the head too many times.

Losing Amy, neuropathy, hearing loss, and epilepsy I can handle. Putting down the guitar because of arthritis wasn’t easy, but it pushed me into contacting Tim. This new thing scares the hell out of me, but I am going to turn it into something positive.

In a few days, patrickcostello.org will go live. I will bring back The Daily Frail, and also begin posting my current book chapter-by-chapter as it comes together (more on that later). Anybody can access the material, and folks will have the option of slogging through material going back to 1997 and farther and creating an index so that people can search for specific topics.

This is not what I was planning to do, but I am excited about going electric – and even more excited about building an independent platform.

patrickcostello.org will go live soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Blade

In the 1980s, I broke the tip off my father’s Buck knife breaking into the copy room at school. I ran off a stack of pages from a book of bawdy ballads titled Roll Me Over, and then I organized an impromptu dirty song singalong in the cafeteria.

I was sent home with the broken knife. The songbook was confiscated.

It took me twenty years to replace dad’s copy of Roll Me Over. Dad got over the broken knife.

After telling the story to a friend recently, he gave me some crap about breaking a good blade, and I realized I needed to make this right.

So, I got in touch with Buck Knives, and we came up with a suitable replacement from the custom shop. I even had Dear Old Dad engraved on the blade.

He said it was worth the wait, and I can borrow this one to break into someplace anytime.